Macular Degeneration Awareness Month

Age-Related Macular Degeneration ARMD Eye Health

When you think of the month of February, Valentine's Day or perhaps even Groundhog Day might come to mind. However, the purpose of this post is to bring something else to your thoughts this month aside from cupid's arrow and a great Bill Murray movie. February has also been designated Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, and for good reason. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects more than 1.75 million in the US and is the leading cause of central vision loss in individuals over 50. The disease causes deterioration of the macula, a small area of the retina (the light sensitive tissue within the back of your eye) that is responsible for your fine, detailed vision. AMD can cause blurred, distorted and even missing spots in the central vision and usually affects both eyes. AMD can be very debilitating since a loss of central vision can hinder near activities such as reading or using the computer and, in more advanced cases, be visually significant enough to restrict the ability to drive, causing those affected to surrender their independence.

There are two main types of AMD: (1) Dry or Atrophic AMD and (2) Wet or Exudative AMD. If there is a silver lining, most of those with AMD do have the dry, less aggressive version. In most cases of dry AMD, yellow lipid deposits called drusen form under the retina and there is thinning of retinal tissue. Loss of vision is gradual and the eyes must be closely monitored by your eye care professional to assure the more menacing, aforementioned wet form doesn't develop. Vision can also easily be checked at home in between eye appointments with the use of an Amsler Grid. Regrettably, 10% of those diagnosed with AMD have or will develop the wet, exudative form. In wet AMD, abnormal, fragile blood vessels grow underneath the retina and can leak blood and fluid into the sensitive ocular tissues, causing quicker and more profound vision loss.

Although there is currently no cure for AMD, the National Eye Institute's Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS II study found that a certain formulation of vitamins and minerals slowed the progression of AMD in moderate and advanced cases. These supplements are available over-the-counter, but you should first consult with your eye care professional to see which formulation is best for you since they may contain an ingredient that can counteract with one of your current medications or contain an ingredient that might pose a risk to smokers. Although there is currently no proven therapy for preventing early stages of AMD, a diet rich in leafy greens (lutein/zeaxanthin) and omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) has shown to have retinal benefits.

Risk factors for AMD include: 

  • Over 65 years old
  • Family history of the disease 
  • Smoker or previous smoker
  • Caucasian 
  • Obesity (more likely for AMD to progress to severe form)
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Poor dietary habits 
How to reduce risk of vision loss from AMD: 

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